When patients switch their prescriptions to a HealthFirst Pharmacy location, their initial reaction is often surprise.
“We get transfers every day from the big chains,” says HealthFirst co-owner Jeanine Nakhle. “The patients are very impressed by how quick we do things, how much more time they have with us, and how personalized things are.”
Patient-centric care has been the priority for the aptly named independent pharmacy group since forming just four short years ago. What started as three pharmacists coming together with a common vision has quickly grown into a multi-location healthcare enterprise, now with eight locations across Windsor and Essex County.
“Our goal has always been great service. Just that patient interaction and personal touch,” shares business partner Dennis Koren. “I worked at Big V when I was in pharmacy school and they kind of had that mentality; they were a good sized corporation but they treated their staff and patients really well and that’s something that stayed with me.”
Jeanine, Dennis, and their partner George El-Turk all began their careers as pharmacists two decades ago. Seeing the direction that some of the larger national chains were starting to take, each of them had made the decision to open their own independent stores. Since amalgamating, the group has expanded at a rapid pace.
That growth continues this spring with the opening of their newest location inside The Windsor Professional Centre on Howard Avenue, more commonly known as the Ziter Building, in April.
“We’re really excited to work with all the physicians and specialists in that building and develop programs for people with diabetes and other conditions,” says Jeanine. “We’re going to also have giftware like the Big V days, as well as a health food and nutrition store.”
Jeanine says their group already works directly with over 30 doctors among all their locations, and is looking forward to forming relationships with the over 60 family doctors and specialists at the new site, solidifying the store as a nucleus for healthcare in Windsor.
Although still in its infancy, the HealthFirst Pharmacy group has already developed a knack for identifying healthcare needs in the community and meeting them with specialized staff and services including compounding, fertility, and mental health.
The group focuses on building one-stop healthcare centres from the ground up, with each pharmacy location being attached to a clinic, specialist, or other health practitioner to meet the unique needs of patients across the region. The trio even goes so far as to recruit physicians to the area, bringing in doctors from as far away as the UK and assisting them with all the necessary immigration paperwork.
“We really try to do it all,” says George. “We design, build out, and furnish medical space to then recruit physicians and staff and aid with training to ensure a well-oiled machine.”
In addition to opening their newest location on Howard Avenue, the group is also now expanding the programs at several of their other sites, including a sexual health clinic at their Windsor Avenue building.
Sexual Health Windsor is now open to patients at 1329 Windsor Avenue. The clinic is staffed with a physician and nurse practitioner and offers services ranging from PAP tests and STI screenings to pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and treatment and management of individuals who have tested positive for syphilis.
The clinic was designed to offer complete sexual health care for those who wish to access a confidential and judgement-free space.
“As providers we recognize that some Windsor-Essex residents, particularly those without a primary care provider, may face barriers to accessing timely sexual health services,” says Kim Kirkpatrick, Nurse Practitioner at Sexual Health Windsor. “This ultimately leads to a delay in testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or screening for cervical cancer. Anyone who is sexually active should make STI testing part of their regular wellness check-up.”
The nurse practitioner also runs a Functional Wellness Clinic onsite at the Windsor Avenue location. Functional medicine offers patients an individualized, science-based approach to addressing the root cause of their ailments, rather than simply managing symptoms, shares Kim. Patients interested in booking an appointment can do so online at www.functionalwellnessclinic.ca.
Jeanine says the group works closely with the Canadian Mental Health Association and is striving to make this location a mental health hub for Windsor as well.
“We’ve been CMHA ambassadors for many years and have a passion to increase the accessibility of mental health care here in Windsor-Essex County,” she continues. “We offer specialty services and counselling on all mental health prescription medications as they can entail complex regimens and undesirable side effects.”
The group’s other six locations have also seen significant growth over the past few years.
The Banwell Pharmacy location, which opened in 2019, is now the premier compounding site in Windsor Essex-County. Compounding medications can be life changing, explains Jeanine, allowing pharmacists to formulate custom medication to fit the unique needs of a patient.
It requires specialized training, she adds, which each of the site’s employees has received through PCCA, the world leader in pharmacy compounding.
“Banwell is the hub for all the HealthFirst locations, so you can bring your compounding prescriptions to any of our locations and we’ll do the rest,” says Jeanine.
It’s not just humans who benefit from the group’s specialized offerings. The HealthFirst Banwell location is also able to formulate medications for four-legged companions including dogs, cats, and Guinea pigs.
“We’ve had some of the cutest little patients. We helped cure a hamster’s UTI once,” laughs Jeanine.
Their newest site, Beachside Pharmacy on Amy Croft Drive, has quickly grown to include six family physicians. Managing partner Stephanie Tootill is extremely knowledgeable in weight loss management with Ideal Protein, as well as compression socks and bracing, adds Jeanine.
“We’ve also partnered up with a hearing instrument practitioner and taking on a business venture called ‘Hear Us,’” shares Dennis. “It will be launching in April in Amherstburg with plans to launch numerous other sites around the city down the road. This will be another adjunct to prescriptions because we can help with hearing aid purchases, repair, and hearing tests.”
The group is also incredibly proud of the HealthFirst Pharmacy Twin Oaks location, which specializes in prenatal and postnatal care and works closely with obstetricians Dr. Victory and Dr. Pattinson and their fertility clinic patients. The store also carries breast pumps and baby giftware, as well as other niche items for new moms.
“Our partner there, Kinga Kowalik, and the team have done a lot of specialized training on all the prescription medications for fertility and go above and beyond for their patients,” says Jeanine. “They’ve gone in after hours if someone ran out of their meds. The counselling they give their patients is extensive; they really devote their time to ensure the patient comprehends everything during what can be a stressful time of trying to conceive.”
While each site offers their own unique services and some locations have different names, Jeanine says patients can expect the same personalized touch wherever you see the HealthFirst Pharmacy logo; from Essential Pharmacy in Lasalle to Beachside Pharmacy in Lakeshore and every location in between.
Despite their swift evolution, George says the stores have managed to maintain that intimate approach to patient care, largely thanks to the friendly, dedicated staff they’ve brought on to oversee the pharmacies. The team jokes about their virtually non-existent turnover rate and has only ever had to hire staff to meet the growing demands of their expansions, never to replace anyone.
“I’m proud we’ve been able to bring together such an amazing group of people and help them pursue their passion,” George continues. “We’ve created an environment where people want to come to work every day and customers feel taken care of.”
“We try to treat our staff really well because they’re the heart of our stores,” adds Dennis. “If you have happy staff, you have happy patients.”
There are many other benefits to dealing with an independent, locally-owned pharmacy, notes George. In addition to offering conveniences like city-wide delivery, curbside pickup, and a mobile app for refilling prescriptions, the group also maintains a strong community presence.
“We love supporting local and we love giving back to the community,” he says. “We sponsor different teams and events throughout Windsor-Essex County because our patients allow us to do so. That’s the importance of locally owned and operated.”
Dennis says people looking for that homegrown approach to healthcare need only to pick up the phone and call.
“I think people are unaware of how easy it is to transfer their prescriptions to one of our locations. All they have to do is call us and we do the rest,” says Dennis. “Once patients make the change, we can aid them with so much more than just prescription services.”
To learn more about the HealthFirst Pharmacy group and the services they provide, log on to www.healthfirstrx.ca.